Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Way to Fix the BCS

Last night, the University of Alabama beat Louisiana State University, 21-0, in the Superdome in New Orleans (essentially, LSU's home away from home) in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship Game.

This avenged 'Bama's loss to LSU in November, which cost them the Championship of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) West Division.

Now, give Alabama credit for taking the chance they were handed and definitively doing something with it.

But they didn't win their own division, let along their own league. They should never have gotten that chance, and I don't care that they only lost to LSU in overtime.

Under the old system, the one in place from 1936 to 1997...

* LSU, as SEC Champions, would have played in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, against an opponent not tied to one of the major bowls. As the bowl with the Number 1-ranked team, the Sugar Bowl would have had their pick of the next-best untied teams. Since that wouldn't have been Alabama (they would've been highly ranked, but not Number 2), it might have been Stanford, which only lost once, but that loss cost them the Pac-12.

* Oklahoma State, as Champions of the league currently known as the Big 12, formerly the Big 8, would have played in the Orange Bowl in Miami. Okie State probably would've been ranked Number 2 under the old system, and probably would've played the next-highest-ranked non-champion, which could well have been Alabama.

* Wisconsin, as Big Ten Champions, and the University of Southern California, as Pacific Twelve (Pac-12) Champions, would have faced each other in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, outside Los Angeles.

* Arkansas, as the highest ranked team among those teams that used to belong to the Southwest Conference (SWC, R.I.P. 1912-1996), would have played in the Cotton Bowl, in Dallas. Possibly against Oregon, highly-ranked but losers in the Pac-12 title game.

Supporters of the BCS say that it's an improvement over what we have now. Often, that's true. But we've seen 2-loss teams win the National Championship under that system. We've seen teams that didn't reach their conference title game reach the National Championship Game -- and now we've seen one win it.

Presuming they won the Sugar Bowl, LSU would have been 13-0, the only major undefeated team, and unquestioned National Champions. But what if they'd lost? Presuming they won the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma State could say they're National Champions -- and, unlike LSU & 'Bama, it would have bene a first for them.


A few years ago, as part of their Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... series, ESPN said the biggest reason there's no playoff for college football's National Championship is the university presidents: They don't want one, because the bowl system means more money.

Well, I've got a system that will get a playoff and keep the bowls.

First, everybody goes into a league. Whether they like it or not. Notre Dame, you cowards, you don't want to go into a league and split the pie? That's fine -- but you would be ineligible for the National Championship. That means you'd go through an entire season, and win nothing. No league, no national title... you'd have to content yourself with beating Michigan and USC (maybe).

Then we settle everybody into 8 leagues. We can think about what they should be named, but the best way to do it for this demonstration (perhaps only for this demonstration) is to use the old names: The Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the SEC, the SWC, the Big 10, the Big 8/12, the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and the Pac-8/10/12.

Divide them all into 2 divisions. A team that wins its division is still eligible. Now we've gone from 120 (or whatever the number is now) to 16.

I don't care if you go 10-1 in the regular season, and win your games by an average score of 42-3: If that 1 loss costs you your division championship, you're out. I don't care if you go 0-4 in your non-conference games and finish the regular season 6-5: If you win your division, you're in. As Herman Edwards taught us, "You play to win the game!" If you win the games you've got to win, you're in.

Then the division champions play each other for the conference championships. We play these games on the 2nd Saturday in December, so that all the regular-season games are in, including such traditionally late games as USC-UCLA and Army-Navy. And now we're down to 8.

Now we step aside from the National Championship process, and we have the minor bowls, on the 3rd Saturday in December. See, they stay.

Now we have the quarterfinals. If the 4th Saturday in December turns out to be Christmas Day, they can be moved back to Friday, Christmas Eve. And we can have the (sort-of) traditional matchups (with the leagues' traditional names, rather than their current names, listed below):

* The Rose Bowl matchup of Big 10 vs. Pac-10, in the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena.

* The Orange Bowl's Big 8 vs., say, the Big East, at the Dolphins' stadium in the Miami suburbs.

* The Sugar Bowl's SEC vs., perhaps, the ACC, at the Superdome in New Orleans.

* And the Cotton Bowl's SWC vs. the WAC, at Cowboys Stadium in the Dallas suburbs.

What about the Fiesta Bowl, you ask? After 40 years, I suppose that's now a "traditional bowl." And it did crown a few National Champions in the pre-title game era. But I don't care how much the Fiesta has risen, or how much the Cotton has fallen: The Cotton is a traditional major bowl, the Fiesta is not.

Anyway, with these bowls-in-all-but-name that are actually Playoffs... now, we're down to 4.

Now it gets a little complicated, but fair. Now we can use BCS/AP/UPI rankings to set the traditional bowls, and have them on New Year's Day. This way, whatever prestige the bowls lose can be offset with the revenue of 2 big games at their sites. And teams that didn't make it to the semifinals can still play one more game, and win their season finale.

Then, on the 1st Saturday in January -- assuming it's not also New Year's Day, if so it can be moved -- we have the National Semifinals. Have the 2 easternmost teams play each other at a big stadium that's not a BCS team's home field. Possibly MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands. And have the 2 westernmost teams play each other at such a stadium as well. Maybe the Denver Broncos' new version of Mile High Stadium, whatever they're calling it this year.

And now, we're down to 2. The National Championship Game can be played on the 2nd Saturday in January, at a centrally-located facility. Soldier Field in Chicago. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. As long as it's not a potential home field for a participating team.

Might this result in 2-loss, 3-loss, 4-loss, or even 5-loss team winning the National Championship? Yes. But that team will have had to, starting in the conference title game, win 4 consecutive games, over a one-month period, against highly-ranked teams, and have set themselves up by being first Division Champions, then Conference Champions. They will have earned it. Unlike Alabama this season.

The timing won't be bad, either. Last night's BCS National Championship Game was played on January 9. Under the system I'm describing above, it would have been played on January 14. Not that big a difference.

Too many games? Keeping an 11-game regular season, and going all the way, would be 15 games. But only the last 2 teams would play a 15th game. Perhaps the regular season can be shortened to 10 games, as it was until the mid-1970s. That way, given a conference title game and a bowl game, most of the good teams would still play 12 games.

This rewrite of the system would get rid of the BCS, keep the bowls, get a definitive National Champion, bring more prestige to the winners, and make everybody a hell of a lot of money.

It makes sense.

Making sense, of course, is not high on the list of priorities for any sports organization. Not even college football.

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